People often ask me how I determine which alpaca goes into which group. We break the larger herd up into smaller groups for several reasons. We like to have animals of the same sex and age together for feeding and management purposes. We might have one group with show animals in it that we try to keep out of the mud. Sometimes we will have a "skinny" group with animals who could use feed that is richer in nutrients. It is easier to catch animals for various reasons if they are in smaller groups, and this system aids in pasture rotation.
When planning your alpaca farm, you will need to plan for at least 4 groups of animals eventually. A group for younger (weanling - yearling) males, a group for mature males, and two groups for females. Having the ability to separate your females into two groups helps when it comes time for weaning and managing different body scores, birthing patterns, and personalities. If you start with all females, you can house your alpaca herd in one group. Just be prepared that as the herd grows, one day you will need at least four groups.
Several times a year we re-evaluate each group and move some animals around. Today I did just that in preparation for the Autumn "Fruit Basket Turnover" as I like to call it. All the female alpacas that are due in 2008 will go in one group. The females due in the Spring of 2009 will make up another group. We will also separate the girls who will need to be bred this Fall. I have a "special" group of 5 girls that are to be bred to Shawnee. He is a younger herdsire just starting out his breeding career. We will consider "field breeding" him with these girls for about a week. More on that once he arrives from Ohio. (This is not a usual practice for us. Almost all breedings we do are "hand breedings" where we put the male and the female together, watch the breeding, and record what occurs. But with his inexperience, we think Shawnee needs a more naturalistic approach to get him past his first time jitters!) We will also have a group of younger males and our herdsire group.
I will go over the groups again with regards to personalities before we actually move any animals. Alpacas have sweet, somewhat sensitive temperaments. Some alpacas are pretty tough and don't seem to mind where they go. Some alpacas are very sensitive and need to be with alpaca "buddies" or herdmates they have known for a while. The lovely Antigia, pictured here with daughter Juliette, is one of our more sensitive girls. When we wean her cria (baby alpaca), she will really miss her. Antigia will come to the fence and cry for her for several days. (not all alpacas do this) We will want to make sure that when we move Antigia and her baby away from each other, she has some friends in her group to help her with the transition. Alpacas are very social animals and they exhibit emotions just like people do. We have decided to put Antigia in a group with other girls who will birth when she does next year. This way she can stay with the same group of animals for the long term. Paying attention to each animal's individual needs pays you back tenfold with regard to that animal's production.